Friday, December 18, 2015

WQ6X test drives the 1000MP for 2015 10-meter contest

2015 marked one of the most dismal ARRL 10-meter contests I've ever been a part of.
Between work commitments, a hastily assembled 2nd story portable operation and horrible
space weather, I amassed only 3 dozen QSOs.

In order to make things easier to setup, I chose to run CW only.
To computer run CW I use a West Mountain Plug-N-Play unit for keying the Yaesu FT-1000MP.

Because I operated from a 2nd story hotel room, antenna-wise a Cobra dipole was draped 1/2
across the ceiling, and 1/2 hung out the window.  While the 1000MP was able to tune this dipole sometimes the tuner gears needed some grinding before a match could be worked out.   When
I later encountered problematic RFI floating around the room, that the tuner  took so long doesn't
now surprise me.  At one point I got a laser-point RF burn when my hand bumped one of the wires
on the 4:1 balun.  Indoor antennas always have some nice surprises.

While I ran only CW, I made use of the DUAL receive capability in the 1000MP by putting the 2nd receiver into phone band looking for area openings.  The 1000MP has excellent audio mixing abilities; one receiver in each air.  Because I ran as ASSISTED, the bandmap helped me locate new multipliers.

I was not able to setup before the contest and missed whatever band opening existed in the first 4 hours of the contest.  So in fact, I made the 1st QSO mid Saturday morning.

10-meter band conditions were poor
all weekend from my east bay location.

As it turns out, most Californians had
a similar experience.  During my hours on the air Europe and Africa never materialized; either in the receiver
or on the bandmap.  I saw many VK's ZL's and JA's in the bandmap but
never heard any of them. 

While I could work everyone I heard,  that reach was only as far as Canada, the U.S., Mexico and Bonaire.  Because the signals were often weak, I made extensive use of the Yaesu's contour control and pair of 250-hz filters to pop stations above the noise.

Due to a late morning band opening and afternoon work commitments I barely had time for 90 minutes of operation on Sunday.  When I arrived back at the hotel at 23:30z 10 meters was already gone for the day leaving me with a grand total of 36 QSOs in the log.

While this year's 10-meter contest was a ho-hummer (years past events have resulted in 1st place finishes from EB section), what was important is that the newly acquired
FT-1000MP was put through a number of difficult situations which needed to be tested.

 For example, the previous radio owner had installed a pair of 250 hz filters yet never enabled them via the menu system.  I was not aware these filters were even installed until I attempted to menu enable them and found that they existed and worked.

This year's 10-meter contest provided verification of the fact that solar cycle 24 is nearing its end.
While summertime brings increased 10-meter activity, the winter months ahead will find fewer/poorer band openings.  However just because 10 meters sounds dead does not mean there is no available activity.
If everybody is listening and no one is calling CQ, the band may appear to be dead.
When in doubt, put in a call yourself - you may be surprised at who returns that call.

During last year's 10 meter contest, while the band seemed rather quiet at 3:30z (7:30 pm local time),
a "CQ contest" flushed out over a dozen stations lurking about.  When you work a station calling
CQ contest at times like this, be sure to spot the station in one or more DX clusters.
Operators seeing it popped into their bandmap will then be more likely to spend
more time on the seemingly "dead" band - something to THINGK about.

Even with declining sunspot activity, 10 meters can be a lot of challenging fun.

Did you work this year's 10 meter contest?

Is WQ6X one of the rare QSOs in your log?

Sunday, December 13, 2015

WQ6X runs 2015 ARRL 160 contest remotely

For the 2015 ARRL 160-Meter contest I was unable to make it to Fallbrook for an NX6T multi-OP GiG.  Evidently neither could anyone else, so Dennis N6KI opted to run solo.  He offered up STN#1 for me to run remote after 1am local time.  Unfortunately, Saturday morning, the remote hookup was out of commission which left me with 6 hours Sunday morning for WQ6X to make an appearance on 160 meters.

Equipment-wise, I ran a K3 radio thru a KPA-500 amplifier into a 160-dipole @ 70 feet broadside Northeast / Southwest.  Running the amplifer during a remote operation was a risk because if an operational fault were to occur with the amp not only would I not have 500 watts but would be running at the 30-watt drive level the K3 was set at. 
Luckily, that never happened.

Because I started at the tail end of the contest I  decided to spend my first operating hour running stations on 1.806.  Everyone was so desperate for new callsigns that they lined-up to work another RARE California station.  During that hour I handed out nearly 60 QSOs.

For those stations who heard me, if my operation seemed a bit erratic  it was due to internet latency disrupting an otherwise orderly operation.  A number of times the internet connection would deteriorate requiring me to quickly reestablish the connection; at which time the internet latency would drop to under 0.8 seconds.  Nearly a dozen function key macros allowed me to run as if I was using a keyer paddle at the radio itself.

When the contest ended at 7am,  I had managed 156 QSOs in 48 sections; not bad for under 6 hours of OP time.  While I win no awards for this operation it was fun to work 160 and even more exciting to run it remotely from the SF bay area.

Did you work the ARRL 160 GiG?
Is WQ6X in YOUR Log?

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

WQ6X runs CQ WW CW Remotely from Nashville

This weekend's CQ WW contest was one of the uniquely WILD contest runs I have ever done.
What made this weekend different is that instead of a long drive to Fallbrook to operate the NX6T station (aka "Nashville"), I chose to run as WQ6X but REMOTELY from the NX6T location.
Friday evening I ran 80 & 40 meters from the  Pismo Beach Quality Inn.
Saturday evening and all day Sunday I operated from the Burbank Quality Inn.
As it turns out, while I was running STN#1 remotely STN#2 was being retrofitted with
"Version 2" of remote access.

With remote operation, internet latency is a primary concern.   Because of latency issues, had this been an
SSB contest I don't think it would
have worked.
Luckily, for CW, all transmission originations occurred on the NX6T
end of things; the only audio
transmitted was from the receiver.
 I typically experienced latency of approximately 0.5 - 0.8 seconds.

When it would slow down to 2 - 3 seconds, I would disconnect and reconnect to bring it all back.
Because the contest was function key driven, I didn't need to figure out how employ an external keying paddle.

For logging WinTest was the program of choice.
Like N1MM, function key macros allow 95+ of contest activity to be handled with no problem.
For unusual situations using Alt-K to type takes care of the rest.

The radio was an Elecraft K3 running barefoot into a C-31 Yagi for the upper bands, a 2-el 40 meter yagi and a semi inverted Vee for 80 meters.  Being that Fallbrook is already 900' above sea level, my low power signal held its own. 
I was able to bust major pileups on the 1st call over 70% of the time.   Rarely did I have to call more than 2 or 3 or more times.

I believe one thing that helped is WQ6X callsign recognition from other contests, including CQ WW from last month.
This is another reason to submit a log, not only to the contest hosts but also to SuperCheckPartial.Com.

My biggest beef this year is with stations like OL5T who call CQ and then wait 0.5 secs before calling the next CQ.  Not surprising they made few QSOs during that period because by the time we take 1-second to decide if we should press FK-4, they are calling CQ again.

I hear this kind of behavior in most major CW contests and wonder what the operators behind this are or are not thinking.  Frequently when I look up their callsigns I see that their QSO total is not in the top 10 - gee I wonder why?!

Another beef is a station who is running a frequency and disappears every minute or so.
I now realize that means the station is either running SO2-R or multiple transmitters with a lock-out mechanism.  If I were not running remote I would have done what I now do in these situations.
If the station makes no reply to 3 calls and does not call CQ I send "QRL?" twice.
If still no reply then the frequency is now mine and I begin calling CQ.
Should the station come back I remind them that they stopped using it so now I am.
On CW I simply send "QRL - QSY" and then continue running the frequency.

My main beef with the above scenario is that the bands are already crowded during contest periods.  Unless you are running Multi-2 or Multi-Multi, to hog 2 frequencies concurrently is a violation of contest ethics, or at least overall fairness.

Region wise I was disappointed in
the turn out from Oceania - in the SSB contest they were everywhere.
Conversely, I was also surprised by the plethora of Canadian stations on the air.
While they are only 2 points for us Californians, they are an easy 2 points.
South America and European stations were everywhere this year.
As usual, I heard few stations from Africa but worked virtually everything
I heard.

QRM-wise, I was disappointed in the filter system of the K3 this weekend, making me wish I could have been running the FT-1000MP.  The rig control software for this operation didn't make it easy to invoke the DSP & shift facilities in the K3.  The 500hz filter seemed like a 1800hz filter in the presence of S9+ signals.  Oh well you can't have everything.

Amazingly, there was very little weird 40-meter QRM; no belches or VFO swoops or strange
RTTY - I didn't even hear the illegal South American SSB stations in the CW band.
What DiD stand out however was a BUZZER sound on 7004.72 @ 14:00z - WEIRD!

In total, I managed nearly 24 hours of actual operating time.  I was able to make a presence on all bands (80 - 10 meters)  when propagation permitted it.

Shortly after the contest the SFI went
on a decline and the atmospheric noise worsened.

During the contest because I had no way to rotate the antennas, any positional-related noise could not be eliminated by turning the antenna(s).

As you can see 15 meters was the top band for my operation, followed by 40, 20, 80 & 10. 
Zone-wise I worked some incredibly "rare" zones (such as Iceland - Zone 40), however overall I managed only
22 out of the 40 zones.

While getting setup for remote operation requires a lot of software downloads/installs, once done it seems to flow rather smoothly; although for the future extending the desktop onto an external monitor would make things a LoT easier.

So now, the question is: which contest do I run remote next?

Did you work the CQ WW 2015 CW contest?
Is WQ6X in YOUR Log?

Thursday, November 26, 2015

WQ6X wins another Sweepstakes phone GiG from East Bay Section

For Sweepstakes phone this year, at the last minute I decided to run as Single-OP Assisted. 
In retrospect, I should have run the CW Sweepstakes as assisted.  Running a low power operation with marginal antennas, I need all the assistance I can get.  Unfortunately, having assistance is no guarantee of improved success.  Knowing what frequency a needed multiplier is on does no good if propagation doesn't support that path.

As I did in the CW Sweepstakes, operation was from KK6YRL's QTH in Concord, Ca.  I used the same HF2-V and Cobra Inverted Vee used in CW Sweepstakes. 
While the A & K solar indexes were extremely low,
the atmospheric noise was very noticeable; especially
with the HF2-V.

Using the IPO feature of the 1000MP compensates for the noise increase somewhat, while running the eDSP contour control through its settings is often enough to "pop" a voice up above the noise level long enough to copy the exchange information.

Compared to the Elecraft K3, this is much easier to accomplish quickly thanks to a contour control with
detents giving me tactile feedback, even when not
looking at the radio.
Because this was a voice contest,
I had to make a decision as to which microphone will produce the best results: a classic Electro Voice 664
or a Heil HC-4 headset.  Saturday morning during testing I happened across a station who suggested that
the EV-664 had more punch.

Listening to myself using the monitor facility of the FT-1000mp, I agree.
(In the past, the 664 did poorly with the TS-450, ICOM 7000 & FT-920 radios.)

Then again, thanks to the 1000MP's transmit audio eDSP & speech processor, my signal possessed an incredible punch, considering the power and antenna configuration.

On the receive end of things the eDSP contour facility brought unintelligible signals through,
time and again.  Comparing this facility with the Elecraft K3 equivalent is a no brainer; the
1000MP wins, without question.  Compared to the Yaesu, in my opinion the K3 Shift/Width
and DSP adjustments cannot quickly bring a signal through.  Unlike the K3, the 1000MP
uses real knobs to accomplish these functions.

One of the reasons I am now using the FT-1000MP is because of its dual-receive capability. 
While calling CQ on a given frequency I used the Yaesu's sub receiver to look for multipliers. 
Quickly switching VFOs allows me to work the station immediately or store it in the band map for calling later.  Because I was running as assisted, I was able to make use of internet spots to load up the bandmap for later S&P (Search & Pounce) action.  Then again, if I wait too long, the station may well have changed frequency.

In general, conditions were way down this year. 
I know it is a slow time when my contest CQ call is
answered by KP2, KH6, KP4 , VY1 & VY2 stations. 
Unfortunately, I was unable to work obviously easy
sections such as IN & SFL - wassup with that?

This year 73 sections marked my lowest multiplier total in years.  Because I worked everything that I heard, I attribute missing those 10 sessions to not being on the right bands at the right time.

One of the most important factors towards success in Sweepstakes is to know which bands to be on at what
time and whether to run a frequency or search and pounce.
Of course this is all influenced by the SFI numbers and actual propagation conditions, which this year changed suddenly numerous times.

Band-wise, 10 meters was almost a no-show and 75 meters wasn't much better.

Because this was a domestic contest it is not surprising that 40 meters yielded the largest contact total.

This made up for the < 100 QSOs on
20 & 15 meters.

This year, voice-keying was quite a challenge.  Attempting to run the laptop sound into the microphone line resulted in a weird feedback loop in which the CAT control polling showed up as
a ticking noise in the transmit audio.  To resolve that I used a separate laptop to play the .WAV files
for transmission.  Unfortunately I then had to key that laptop separately as there is no way to link the N1MM function keys across laptops.

QRM-wise, there was the usual bevy of tuner-uppers and microphone testers. 
There was a weird "WHOOSH"ing noise on 7187.78 and a number of Fft-Fft-Fft sounds
across the band.  There was also a visit from the Woodpecker radar.  Because we often
operate Sweepstakes above 7.200, we then get to dance around the numerous broadcast carriers.  Sometimes the best place to operate is zero-beat with a broadcast carrier that has weak audio.

This year I was surprised by the low turnout for QRP station operations
and even more surprised by almost
no school stations (using the "S" precedent).  Last year there were no school stations, so any school making
1 QSO would have won a wooden plaque - WAKE UP people!

For Sweepstakes 2015 I was amazed
at the number of East Bay stations on the air; nearly twice that of the CW Sweepstakes.  Despite the activity, it looks like I am the top station in the low power assisted category; altho we will not know for sure until next year.

You can view my 3830 website submission HERE.

 I was pleased to hear over a dozen
YL operators this year; YL's add variety to the operating experience.   On CW, unless we know the operators behind the callsign there is no way to determine YL's vs. OM's.

Did you participate in this year's Sweepstakes phone contest?

Is WQ6X in YOUR log?

WQ6X joins NX6T for another JIDX contest win

As I did last year, I decided to join the team at NX6T for another JIDX GiG from Fallbrook.
Because JIDX is a Japanese only event we simply point the yagis more-or-less Northwest and forget them.
Now that we are out of daylight savings time, in California the SSB JIDX contest begins at 11pm local time.

En route to Fallbrook I made a side-trip to Inglewatts to gas up and refuel at Randy's Donuts.

Later in the afternoon I drove up the hill to the W6HCD site in time to assist with some last minute antenna tweaks and then catch a couple of hours sleep to make my 1st 2am operating stint a little easier.

I setup the FT-1000mp in the operator apartment next door to the shack with the idea that I  can play in the OK/OM contest Saturday nite between the time period when 20 meters disappears and 40 meters opens to Asia.  As it turns out, the 160-meter dipole I was to use for JIDX (by way of the FT-1000MP's awesome tuner) had a shorted balun.

Instead, I configured Station #1 into a CW setup and turned the 2-el yagi to Europe in order to work 30 OK/OM stations on 40 meters by way of an ACOM-2000 amplifier.  You can view my 3830 contest submission HERE.  In addition to OM/HA5RT, there were some interesting WPX-style callsigns like: OM200TC & OL90IARU.

Waiting for JA's to make the scene at 11:00z
 QRM-wise, both evenings we encountered the usual plethora of intentional belches, VFO swishes and tuner-uppers, along with high-speed RTTY on 7.135 - WTF is THAT all about?

For JIDX, as always we ran a multi-single operation employing three K3 radios; STNs 2&3 sharing a band (one calling CQ and one S&P'ing) while STN-1 looks for multipliers on another band.
The secret to JIDX high scores is to snag as many "other band" multipliers concurrent with running a frequency.

Behind the scenes we employ an orderly set of cables to connect the three K3 radios, two ACOM 2000 amplifiers, a pair of WX0B 6-pack switch boxes, a pair of rotor controls and 3 laptop computers with a bevy of display monitors.

Altho it looks like a morass of cables, there is a method to the madness in this behind the scenes layout.

While we don't use them much in JIDX, it's nice to know that Mr. Bill and the EASY Button are there for us if we wish.

Antenna-wise we ran a C-31 yagi on one mast and a 3-El Stepp-IR & 2-el 40-meter yagi on a 70-foot tower.

The tower also supports 80 & 160 meter dipoles, altho 160 doesn't happen in JIDX SSB.

Thanks to a total of 7 operators we ended with 593 QSOs which is almost 300 Q's shy of last year.  However because HG7T chose to play in the OK/OM contest instead of JIDX, we have a significant opportunity for another worldwide 1st place plaque.

We managed to work all prefectures that were on the air.  As usual, there was no activity from prefectures 47, 48 & 49.
You can view our 3830 score submission HERE.

This year, we made most of the contacts on 40 & 15 meters.
Due to poor space weather conditions, 10, 20 & 80 meters gave us very little action.

Did YOU play in the JIDX contest?
How many prefectures did YOU work?

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

WQ6X returns to East Bay for Sweepstakes 2015

For the 2015 CW November Sweepstakes I combined old with the new to create a unique operating experience.  For location I chose to again operate from the QTH of KK6YRL in Concord - East Bay (EBAY) section.

 Unlike previous years, for SS-2015 I brought a new radio into play; namely a Yaesu FT-1000MP.  The MP did an outstanding job.  It coupled nicely with a 4 year old Toshiba laptop running N1MM+.  For CW keying I used the RigBlaster Plug-n-Play unit; in the past it worked beautifully with the ICOM 7000, and now also with the 1000 MP.

I erected the HF2-V vertical using an umbrella stand as I have done in years past.  However this year I hoisted one of my Cobra dipoles up about 25 feet into a  tree making a shallow inverted Vee fashion to work on the high bands and offer an additional access to 80 & 40.
Considering the limited resources I had to work with these antennas worked amazingly well.

The coils on the HF2-V were not designed with the kind of portable operations I do on a fairly routine basis.  Over the years they have been "squished" out of perfect circular shape.  The MFJ 259 antenna analyzer allows me to "squeeze" the coils into proper shape for both 80 & 40.
The 1000MP supports 2 antenna inputs and an excellent auto-tuner allowing use of both antennas on any band; altho HF2-V performance was rather horrible on 15 & 10 meters.  While the HF2-V lowered the radiation angle & increased receiver gain, being a vertical the noise level went up also.  Using the IPO button helps somewhat.  Next in line, the eDSP contour control made all the difference.

Space weather wise the atmospheric noise was only a problem on the high bands.  Because Sweepstakes is a domestic contest, signal fading is not nearly the problem as experienced the weekend before when I single-OP'd the CQ WW contest from Fallbrook.
Then again, as the weekend progressed, the noise levels quietly crept up, looking theoretically rather horrible by contest end.

For this year's Sweepstakes I was elated over how "easy" it was to work sections like NH, VT, SC & MAR, and perplexed by the virtual lack of Nebraska (NE) as well as the NL and NT Canadian sections.  WV was back on the endangered list.
While 80 sections is rather good, in my opinion, it don't
count unless I make a clean sweep with all 83 sections.
Oh well, maybe next year for that one.

QRM-wise, on 40-meters the usual intentional belches
VFO sweeps and RTTY stations were not present . 
Because we don't normally run much below 7.025 the
South American SSB stations were not a problem this year.

WQ6X's Operating Hours by Band

My biggest complaint this year were high power stations that moved within 1 kc of my running a frequency to call CQ (after snagging a QSO from me first of course).  The entire weekend I heard less than a handful of stations ask QRZ? before jumping in on a frequency.

I have the F1 Search-Pounce key in N1MM+ programmed to automatically make that query.
I believe the REAL reason stations don't ask QRZ? is because operators like me
will reply QRL - QSY.

The bottom line is, if the area of the band you are looking
to run a frequency from is already crowded out, adding your kilowatt signal to that mess is actually a violation
of contest ethics.

Evidently, nobody seems to care about proper operating ethics and as a result just muscle their way through.
This brash attitude is one
of the reasons non-contest operators hate us so much.

Let us remember that sweepstakes is above all a traffic handling exercise - getting the message through w/o QRMing others in the process.  In the overall scheme of everyone getting the message through, it accomplishes little if I get the message through while QRMing you so that your message either can't be gotten through, or is erroneous.

Remember - QSOs don't count if the wrong information is put into the log.
Luckily for me, the 1000MP's roofing filters and eDSP reduced the QRM effects considerably;
however, never enough.

WQ6X in action w/assistance of Negra Modelo

While I didn't get the message through to all ARRL sections I did incredibly well for the ad hoc station I lashed together.  In years past using the TS-450, ICOM 7000 or an FT-920, I would pile on a bunch of filters in the audio line to process the sound towards being more QRM free; altho sometimes those DSPs would make the signals sound "weird" - relatively noise free, but weird.

Although I brought along the NIR-12 outboard DSP unit, thanks to the 1000MP's eDSP I never needed it.  I have a hunch that will be true for the Sweepstakes Phone GiG as well.

During my Sweepstakes preparation, my friend Dennis was in Oakland taking
(and passing) his Technician license exam.
He is now KK6YRL. 
Congratulations OM. 
Dennis is also the cameraman behind these blog photos.

Did YOU play in the 2015 CW SS contest?

Is WQ6X in YOUR Log?

Thursday, October 29, 2015

WQ6X Runs CQ WW Contest Solo from NX6T

Consistent with the month of October, the 2015 CQ WW SSB contest was full of surprises. 
I combined a work trip and several other activities with a driving trip to Fallbrook to join NX6T
in a multi-op contest entry.

Thursday evening after checking into a hotel enroute to So. California I received a call from N6KI that no other operators were available for the weekend and the multi-OP GiG was being cancelled.

I didn't drive nearly 475 miles to not operate so I made a request to run Single-OP as WQ6X.  Friday, with a lot of assistance over the phone I was able to quickly re-cable the setup to run STN#2 into an ACOM-2000 amplifier.

There are two antenna towers at NX6T.  I was able to crank up the C-31 yagi to 13mh.  The tower trailer in the driveway was run at its cranked down height oif about 15mh.

It is arrayed with a compliment of antennas including a 3-el Stepp-IR and 2-el 40-meter yagis, along with inverted V's for 80 & 160 meters. To get on the air more quickly I never raised the tower to it's 25mh position.

Before arriving in Fallbrook I made a detour to pick up an FT-1000mp radio which has been awaiting my receipt.  I set the 1000mp up in the operator apartment next door to the ham shack as a receiver tied into the antenna system as STN#1.

Because I operated as unassisted (meaning no internet or spotting assistance), during operating breaks I would tune around on the bands with the 1000mp and make a list of stations to work.  What is ironic here is that numerous amateurs have replaced their FT-1000mp radios with the Elecraft K3 while I prefer the reverse.

While NX6T runs K3's exclusively, I found that the receive capabilities of this newly acquired
1000mp equaled the K3's in the shack.  I like larger radios with lots of knobs and therefore prefer the ergonomics of the MP over the K3.  If I'd had an extra day to setup the 1000mp and test it for contest conditions, I would have set it up for STN#2.

Unlike most contest operations I run solo, for 2015 CQ WW I
was ready an hour in advance of the 00:00z (5pm) starting time. 
I decided my operating strategy would be to start on 10 meters and work my way down.  Amazingly (considering recent prior weekends) 10 meters was wide open and later I found 15
meters to be in excellent form as well.

In the first 3 hours I managed 158 Q's on 10 meters followed by 121 on 15 meters, starting with S&P activity to verify the band openings followed by running a frequency on each band; resulting in a rate of nearly 90 QSOs per hour - an
awesome start.

My original QSO goal estimate was 600 's for the entire contest, considering what I had to work with.  Within the 1st 3 hours I  accomplished nearly 1/2 of that number.  While i didn't make 90 Q's every hour I did manage a QSO total of 1,142 in 37 zones and 103 countries, qualifying for DXCC that weekend.  15 meters resulted in 78 countries, alone.  At 23:14z on Sunday QSO #1129 with 3D2KM in Fiji took the score past the 1,000,000 point mark. CLICK HERE to see my 3830 Score submission.

On 15 and 10 meters I utilized the two yagi's to unique advantage.  Setting the Stepp-IR to
Bi-directional allowed me to work Asia and South America.  Concurrently I pointed the C-31
to around 270-degrees giving access to southeast asia and Oceania while running frequencies.

I would call CQ several times on one antenna and then switch to the other.  Between that and liberal use of the RIT control (JA stations are notoriously off frequency) I managed to clean up both bands on Sunday afternoon.

For me, the big disappointment was
40 meters.  Making 40-meters work in an SSB Dx contest requires working
split frequency and listening below
7.100 - after midnight, something
I was too sleepy to do.

The intentional QRM on 40 meters was quite rampant, including high speed RTTY on 7.178 - WTF
is THAT all about?  On the other hand, considering that the inverted V's were only 40 feet up, I was quite surprised at the number of countries worked on 80 & 160.

Considering the low SFI number, I was over joyed by the vast number (and variety) of Oceania stations in this contest.  Usually I can only hear a handful.  Having the dual antenna arrangement is what made the difference.  There were a plethora of Asian stations this year, even late on Sunday.
Now if we can get that kind of activity from Asian stations in their own contests I will be ecstatic.

In the end, I decided that an ALL BAND log would not be competitive so I submitted this log as Single band 15-meters high power.  From what I can determine, doing so will result in a 2nd place finish for the U.S and maybe a 1st place for Zone 3.

As to how it really all turns out, we shall know in a few months.

Did YOU work the CQ W.W. SSB contest?

Is WQ6X in YOUR log?

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

N6GEO & WQ6X Activate W6E from Tuolumne for CQP-50

This year marked the 50th running of the California QSO Party (CQP).   Because CQP-50 was a milestone event, the contest organizers added a special G-O-L-D-R-U-S-H bonus.

1x1 callsigns ending in the Goldrush letters were reserved for the event.  Stations working the 1x1 callsigns spelling G-O-L-D-R-U-S-H will receive a special medallion coin commemorating the CQP-50 event.

In preparation for CQP-50 I put together a Gold Rush callsign tracking page.  CLICK HERE to see that page.  Of the 24 active GoldRush stations, our operation at W6E managed to work all but K6D and K6S; both limited-activity operations.

Last year as K6U, George and I had intended to operate from his cabin in Twain Harte (Tuolumne County).  Last minute events beyond our control relegated our operation to his home QTH in Brentwood out of which we not only took 1st place for Contra Costa county, we set a county record for our low power operation.
I wrote about this in last years CQP blog entry.  CLICK HERE to read that.

Vowing to reprise the Tuolumne plans, CQP-50 seemed like our best opportunity.  Because so many 1x1 callsigns were reserved way in advance of the CQP-50 announcement I had to do some serious looking to find an available 1x1 callsign, settling on W6E- Whiskey Six Echo.
CLICK HERE to view the W6E webpage.  CLICK HERE to view the CQP-50 homepage.

For the Twain Harte site we put up an OCF dipole, an HF6-V vertical and a TA-33jr yagi atop a 30-foot numatic mast in the "front yard" of the cabin location.   2 hours after the contest ended the front yard was once again clear.

George ran a computer controlled Elecraft K2 into an SB-200 on a desk in the living room while I ran a Russian SunSDR radio (George recently acquired) into his trusty KPA-500 amplifier from the kitchen table.

While we are both CW & SSB operators, as it turns out George ran mostly SSB spending 25% of the time on CW, while I ran exclusively CW.  Because of RFI from the KPA-500, the SunSDR software would lock up every 10-20 minutes.

Eventually I was able to reduce the restart time to about 10 - 15 seconds, but losing the radio in the middle of a QSO was real frustrating.

Band Openings on 10 meters in Tuolumne were almost non-existent and 15 meters wasn't much better.  For CW, 80, 40 & 20 were the bands; for SSB  75 meters was the band.  Because of QTH restrictions we were unable to quickly find a way to erect an inverted-L for 160 meters - hopefully next year, wherever we operate from.

Thanks to bandpass filters both radios largely stayed out of each others IF circuits, except when we were directly a 2nd harmonic apart.  Power-wise, both amps were running around 550 watts.  Because of the hills to our northeast we decided to run high power instead of the usual low power operations we are known for.

Throughout the CQP weekend the A-Index and K-Index numbers were certainly not insignificant.  Quick-fading made 15 meters difficult; another reason to only send the necessary information in your exchange to me.  When I ask for your NUMBER, that is what I want, not the whole exchange.

Additionally, not only is sending 599 as part of your exchange not part of the contest, more importantly, with quick fading, sending unnecessary information means that the end of your exchange will disappear during the fade, making a repeat necessary.

According to the 3830Scores.Com website we took 5th place in the multi-multi category.  For years I have been asking for a Multi-2 category in CQP so that Dual-OP stations don't have to compete with stations running 6 transmitters.  As a Multi-2 we probably would have taken 1st place.

Like so many things in my life this year, CQP was one surprise after another.  While we may not have taken a 1st place in any category for CQP-50, we DID earn the CQP medallions, many times over.
Since 2000, I have thoroughly enjoyed operating CQP; first @ W6ML, then solo for several years, and now for my 6th year as a dual-OP with N6GEO.

Did YOU operate in CQP-50?
Is W6E in YOUR log?

Monday, September 7, 2015

NX6T Survives horrible Space WX during 2015 A.A. Dx Contest

For this year's All Asian phone contest I arrived a day early allowing me to catch up on sleep
as we had a severe shortage of operators. Between N6KI, myself and our newest op KK6NON,
we managed to put over 1,040 QSOs in the log.  While we slightly beat last year's 1,010 QSO total, we were lacking in multipliers, resulting in nearly 60K points less than the 2014 event at NX6T.
(For the record, amazingly, I did not operate last year's 2014 AA phone contest.)

Altho I keep having doubts, it seems clear that solar cycle 24 is clearly on its way out. 
Unfortunately, low solar activity does not mean low incidences of Geo-magnetic storms;
case in point being this weekend's All Asian contest.  During the previous 2 weeks, dirtball
earth has been inundated by solar storms of varying degrees.  The A/K indexes have been
quite high, with many high band blackouts and significantly increased low band noise levels.

My hopes for a reduction in space weather severity this weekend never happened. 
While the bands were not as noisy as expected, 80 & 10 meters never materialized for us. 
Lack of 80 meter activity amazed me because Thursday nite I was able to copy WWVH (Hawaii)
on 2.5 mhz with an S-7 signal level using a Tecsun PL-600 shortwave radio with a whip antenna.

Additionally, because 15 meters never opened on Friday afternoon/evening we turned to 20 meters making up for the lack, producing a WHOPPING 27 QSOs in the first three hours (last year we worked over 100).

WQ6X running 40-meters

My bitches aside, we experienced a short but WONderful opening to the middle east.  In a sense I over-focused on that opening, not realizing I was missing out on a run of JA's (the C-31 antenna sports a relatively narrow beam width).

Then again, Japan is so plentiful we take the attitude that most of them will be worked before the contest is over.  Therefore, we don't normally obsess over them.   Saturday evening didn't bring us a middle east
opening so I guess my decision was vindicated.

In one respect, with the weird layout of Japan's 75 meter phone band allocations it is no wonder that amateurs there spend little time working non-JA stations. 
This same problem will be with us during
November's JIDX SSB contest.

The NX6T radio shack.

Typical with 40 meter contest activities we ran into
our share of weird QRM; from "helllllloooo" testing of microphones and belching, along with one of the "yeah, yeah" boys, vfo swishes, and, for nearly 2 hours, bursts
of RTTY-type data every 6 minutes.  I must confess a curiosity over what purpose data-bursts on 7.178.78
mhz could be; especially during an Asian contest.

While we encountered a lot of pulse-type noise,
I was disappointed in the K3's handling of it.
The NB circuits, while effective, gave rise to IF distortion anytime a relatively strong station was nearby - a major beef I have with the DSP-style NB circuits - so I ended
up mostly working without it.

Here is where an NIR-4 or MFJ 626 noise canceller
unit could be real useful.

80 meters never happened for us so noise-reduction was not a problem and the Loop antenna was not needed.  Asians contests don't do SSB on 160 giving us no reason to check things there.

Running as a multi-single operation, we used a pair
of Elecraft K3 radios on one band (one for running frequencies and one for S&P'ing on the same band) into
an ACOM 2000 amplifier.  We used a 3rd K3 radio for finding multipliers on another band; however, with the
poor turnout this was largely unnecessary.

C-31 Yagi @45'
Antenna-wise we put C-31 and 3-el. Stepp-IR yagis on the high bands and a 2-el beam on 40 meters.

While we had an 80-meter inverted V at 70', with the poor band condx it was useless.

For Sunday we lowered the Stepp-IR to about 45',
which for Asia is a much better height to create a LOUDER presence.  Unfortunately, on Sunday it
didn't help to bring 15 & 10 meters alive.

As it turns out, in Asian contests by the time Sunday afternoon rolls around, most of the Asian
stations are either sleeping or on the trains headed to work - confirming my beef that not enough Asian stations participate in their own contests.  The average operator age on Sunday is well over
60 - I.E. RETIRED!.

Locally, the 8am to 2pm time period has no Asian activity, allowing me to spend time working
stations as WQ6X in the Colorado QSO party (COQP) on Saturday and the Tennessee QSO
party (TNQP) on Sunday.

Because it is so easy to submit logs by e-mail and post scores on the 3830 Scores website,
the QSO party log submissions were finished before leaving Fallbrook on Sunday evening.

As Sunday afternoon was so slow, N6KI spent time mentoring KK6NON on the fine art of understanding
Asian voice communication attempts.
We operators who natively speak English should realize that for many Asian operators understanding much beyond callsigns, "QRZ?" "QRX" and "stand-by IDIOT!"
is about all they can manage to figure out.

I quickly learned that many stations do not understand
the phrase "we've worked before".
If I knew they were already in the log, I would allow them to give me their exchange and then (without logging the dupe) move on to the next contact.

One of our biggest problems was the number of U.S. stations calling us, evidently not aware that this was an Asia only contest.  I would remind them that they should point their antennas northwest and work REAL Dx.

For Asian stations, did you put NX6T in your log?
For you non-Asian stations, how many Asian prefixes did YOU work?